As we learned in part one in our discussion of Empathy, one of the biggest problems speakers face is focusing too much on themselves and not enough on their audience. In this segment we will focus on learning about your audience. Because let’s face it… knowing exactly to whom you’re presenting and HOW you’re presenting matters more than you may think. Here’s how to inspire through empathy by getting to really KNOW your audience.
Empathy is one of the six qualities of an inspiring speaker, that I write about it my book “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking”
So many presenters fail to realize how important empathy truly is, focusing on their ever growing list of information they wish to impart. They think more about what they want to say versus what the audience wants to hear. “I just have to get through all this material during my talk.” – sound familiar? While it’s true that informing is an important part of the process, focusing on who you’re speaking to makes the difference between talking at your audience and helping them to learn from you.
Empathy means Focusing on the Audience
Empathy is about questioning yourself about the needs of the audience; their hopes and expectations of what they will “get” out of your speech. Time and energy invested into this step will help you create an empathetic talk that your audience wants to hear.
Are you speaking to a low or high risk audience? Is it a relaxed environment where your audience is on your side no matter what comes out of your mouth? Or a tough/professional crowd that has high expectations of you and your speech?
Once you’ve understood your audience’s perceptions about your subject matter, you’re better placed to say what needs to be said – and to let the rest of the traditional waffle and guff slide away from your talk.
How does my audience perceive my topic? Investigate…
Here are five key associations your audience may have about your subject – and what to do with your preparation if these are the case:
1. “How exciting!” vs. Snooze fest
Let’s face it, sometimes you have to present something that just isn’t very exciting. But just because your audience may not perceive your topic as “thrilling”, it may be jam packed with stimulation for you! That’s really your purpose isn’t it? To gain momentum and excitement through your public speaking. What can you do to change your audience’s minds? And if your topic IS exciting be mindful of the audience’s expectations there too. If you don’t deliver as much excitement as they expect… you may disappoint.
Always try to maintain authenticity as it works for you. Whether that’s bouncing from one end of the room to another or powerfully telling a story or using an insightful twist to spark a new way to look at things.
2. “I know this” vs. “This is new”
It’s of the utmost importance to know exactly what your audience knows. If you don’t provide enough content, the audience will leave feeling as if they’ve gained nothing. Too high and you’ll be talking right over their heads. Many times you’ll know the basic level of your audience, but if it varies then you’ll need to be flexible and find the best level to speak to the group as a whole.
If you’re unable to find out the knowledge level your audience, then create material for both possible scenarios. Before you launch full force into your speech, ask some telling questions to gauge audience knowledge. “How many of you have heard something about ____” if you’re looking for a hands up answer. “What do you know about ____” for more detailed data.
3. “I want to” vs. “I have to”
Think about the motivation of your audience in being there at your talk.
Are you speaking to a group that HAS to be there, such as at a school or employees? Or is it a voluntary audience that has purposely come to hear you speak? If you’re dealing with the “Have to be here” crowd who may have low motivation, then get them engaged as quickly as you possibly can. Utilize competitions and other forms of interactions to spark some fun. Storytelling can also be used to an advantage here; show how the topic is relevant to them and why they should care. The goal is to make low motivated audiences feel like they’re a part of your talk, that they have a “stake” in what you have to say.
If you have an audience that has chosen to come listen to you, reward them with acknowledging praise of their enthusiasm. Utilize that spark to delve deeper into your topic than you normally would, they’ll have an even richer, more meaningful experience that way.
4. “Piece of cake” vs. “Mind-boggling”
If the audience perceives the topic as complex, there may be an environment of confusion and tension permeating the room. It’s very important to decipher why the audience might feel uncomfortable with your topic. Is it the technical concepts? The type of people involved? The key is to find what stereo-types exist and how to address them. Once you find out where the discomfort is coming from, you can knock away audience barriers to listening to your speech. In doing this, you can use the language of your audience to take the complex subject and turn it into something to which they can relate.
If you have a group that thinks your topic is a piece of cake, how can you use that information? You could challenge their beliefs and ideas by providing a different way to think of the subject. If there is a mixture of those who find it “easy” and those who are struggling, maybe breaking into helping groups could provide a learning opportunity. Always keep in mind how to be creative to best serve the audience needs.
5. “I want to know this – tell me, tell me!” vs. “Meh.”
If an audience views your topic as important, they’ll listen more intently for longer periods of time. Ask yourself “What does this audience really care about?” and relate your topic to those things.
- Use stories and examples
- Give them compelling reasons to listen
- Use their language
If YOU view your topic as important… so will they. Now that you’ve discovered the expectations from the audience on your topic, apply that information to your speech.
- How long should I speak?
- How much content do I need?
- What stories, examples, or anecdotes can I use?
- How should I frame the topic?
- What other things can I do to get the audience to relate?